Codelco expected to generate $13.9 billion in 2019

Chile’s Codelco, the world’s No. 1 copper producer, is expected to generate $13.9 billion in revenue in 2019 while operating costs would be of $9.9 billion. This is according to the budget approved by the Finance Ministry’s Budget Directorate.

Local newspaper La Tercera reported that following a mandatory annual review of all state-owned companies, the Directorate estimated that Codelco’s earnings before tax would be of $2.8 billion and its total profit would be of $512 million. By law, the company is required to hand over all of its profits to the state.

The revised numbers are a direct result of higher copper prices, which are expected to reach $3 per pound in 2019, an increase of $0.5 when compared to the previous year.

According to the new financial plan, Codelco should grow its production in 2019 to 1,730 million tonnes of copper from approximately 1,677 million tonnes of the red metal produced in 2018.

The budget information was released on the same week the Chilean government handed the state miner the remaining $400 million of the $1 billion "extraordinary" capitalization it promised Codelco last year. The cash injection will help support plans to kick off underground operations at the century-old Chuquicamata mine located in the northern part of the country.

Overall, new projects are forecasted to take up to $3.2 billion from Codelco’s coffers.

Exec shuffle

The state miner also announced that civil engineer Álvaro García will be taking over as the new vice-president of its IT department and will be in charge of leading the company’s digital transformation.

At the Gabriela Mistral division, on the other hand, civil engineer Sergio Herbage will be taken over as general manager, given that his predecessor, Ricardo Montoya, left his post on February 1. The mine is located in the country’s copper-rich northern region of Antofagasta.

There are also changes at the Ministro Hales division, located in Antofagasta as well. Codelco reported that civil engineer Andrés Music was appointed general manager while the person previously occupying the position, Jaime Rivera, was promoted to general manager for the Andean Division.

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What happens when you mix Vitamin C and gold?

Apparently, the answer to the question in the headline has been widely explored by scientists.

What was recently discovered, though, was that a boost of vitamin C can turn small gold nanorods into fine gold nanowires.

“There’s no novelty per se in using vitamin C to make gold nanostructures because there are many previous examples,” said chemist Eugene Zubarev from Rice University in Texas. “But the slow and controlled reduction achieved by vitamin C is surprisingly suitable for this type of chemistry in producing extra-long nanowires.”

Zubarev published his findings in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano.

Gold nanowires grown in the Rice University lab of chemist Eugene Zubarev. Photo by Zubarev Research Group.

In the paper, the researcher explains that the nanorods he used are about 25 nanometers thick at the start of the process and remain that way but their length grows to become long nanowires of over 1,000 nanometers.

The process, however, is quite slow as it takes hours to grow a micron-long nanowire. The way it works is that the ascorbic acid provides electrons that combine with gold ions in five-sided rods and settle at the tips in the form of gold atoms.

Zubarev said the wires’ aspect ratio -length over width- combined with gold’s inherent metallic properties, could enhance their value for sensing, diagnostic, imaging and therapeutic applications.

The scientist and his team also proved that the process is fully controllable, which means that it is possible to produce nanowires of any desired length, and thus the desired configuration for electronic or light-manipulating applications.

"The nanowires’ plasmonic response can be tuned to emit light from visible to infrared and theoretically far beyond, depending on their aspect ratios," the experts said in a media statement.

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Mineral exploration growing in BC – Survey

For the second year in a row, mineral and coal exploration expenditure in British Columbia increased in 2018.

This is according to the British Columbia Mineral and Coal Exploration Survey carried out by the provincial Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, the Association for Mineral Exploration and Ernst & Young.

After collecting insights from nearly 300 exploration projects across BC, the study found that there was a 34% year-over-year growth in 2018 in exploration across all major commodities and geographic regions. Such a growth implies exploration expenditures of approximately $330.2 million.

According to the organizations involved in the survey, the resurgence in exploration activity is focused in BC’s northwest, particularly in the so-called Golden Triangle. The area saw $165 million spent in exploration last year — a 66% increase over the $98.9 million spent in 2017 and nearly double the $85.8 million spent in 2016. The northwest also accounted for half of the total exploration spend in the province in 2018.

“Over the last year we’ve seen continued revitalization of grassroots and early-stage exploration in the province, which accounted for 44% of total exploration in 2018, compared to just 14% five years prior,” Iain Thompson, EY Canada Mining & Metals Advisory Leader, said in a press release.

The examination also found that there were 26 exploration projects in the northwest with investment in excess of $1 million. This is more than twice as many as the number of such projects located in other regions in the province.

The survey states that the renewed interest in the Golden Triangle was triggered higher gold prices, by the discovery of high-grade, potentially economically viable deposits, and by the ramping up of operations at two mines, Imperial Metals’ Red Chris mine and Pretium Resources’ Brucejack mine.

The report says that miners’ enthusiasm in the region was also fueled by the fact that many local First Nations seemed to be gained to the idea of sustainable resource development, and by government efforts to build new infrastructure, including the paving of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, the opening of ocean port facilities for export of concentrate at Stewart and the completion of a $700-million high-voltage transmission line.

In terms of specific commodities, the analysis detected a rebound in coal exploration in 2018, following five years of stagnation. The data show that such activities increased by 58% to $50 million, accounting for nearly a quarter of growth in total exploration spend across the province last year.

Gold, on the other hand, did not generate as much interest. From accounting for 90% of the increase in exploration spending in 2017, the yellow metal’s share dropped to 15%. The experts conducting the study say the reason behind the fall is investors focusing more on copper, silver, and nickel as investments made exploring for these three commodities more than doubled from $49 million in 2017 to $102 million in 2018.

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Exyn Technologies introduces robots into Dundee Precious Metals’ gold mines

Exyn Technologies and Dundee Precious Metals (TSX:DPM) announced this week that they have joined forces to automate the latter's underground gold mining operations.

The first step to achieving such a goal was that Exyn's Autonomy Aerial Robots or A3Rs were made commercially available, a development that took place in the past days.

According to the tech company, A3Rs comprise a fully autonomous aerial system for data collection in GPS-denied environments. They don't need any prior information or persistent communication and they assimilate measurements from a variety of sensors including a 3D LIDAR, cameras, and inertial sensors.

A3Rs operate without the need for a human pilot and in GPS-denied environments.

"The Exyn A3Rs allow frequent and hi-resolution mapping of underground environments while reducing risks to personnel," said Theophile Yameogo, Vice President Digital Innovation of DPM, in a media statement. "We are very excited at the results of the maps we are seeing. As we further integrate the A3Rs into our workflow we anticipate a transformation of operations compared to today's models."

Both firms believe that the robots, which are driven by the exynAI software, are expected to reduce the amount of time spent underground by human operators and increase operational efficiency by having more accurate and up-to-date information for mine planning.

Dundee operates the Chelopech copper mine in central-western Bulgaria and the Krumovgrad gold project in southeastern part of the Balkan country. The Toronto-based miner also owns the Tsumeb smelter in northern Namibia and it entered a joint venture with Khalkos Exploration to earn up to a 71% interest in their Malartic gold property in Quebec, Canada. After completing the buyout of Avala Resources, DPM also became the owner of the Lenovac and Timok gold projects, and the Tulare gold-copper project in Serbia.

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Brazilian iron ore supply disruptions to be expected – Report

Excluding Vale (NYSE:VALE), close to 8 million tonnes of seaborne iron ore supply from Brazil is at risk in 2019, a report by Wood Mackenzie states.

According to the market analyst, such a supply disruption would be the result of the new regulation published by Brazil's National Mining Agency or ANM, which establishes the ban of all dams in the country built with the upstream method.

Based on the new law, companies holding such structures will have six months to present a technical decommissioning project and until August 15, 2021, and August 15, 2023, to fully conclude deactivation processes of inactive and active dams, respectively.

WoodMac reached the conclusion of the supply hitch after analyzing all 226 iron ore tailings dams that the South American country has. Then, the firm's experts identified those that are of the 'upstream' dam type or of 'unknown' type and realized there are 35. These are the ones that, in their view, will be impacted by the decree.

Vale is expected to produce around 50 Mt less than planned.

“The supply cutbacks will most likely come from Usiminas, Gerdau, Mineração Morro do Ipê and junior miners that sell run-of-mine (ROM) ore to Vale and CSN. Pellet feed production from Usiminas is slated to account for half of the export declines, with the other half being sinter feed from the remaining impacted producers. CSN, Brazil’s second-largest iron ore exporter, will likely see its production chain unharmed given the remoteness of its upstream dams,” the report reads.

The Edinburgh-based firm also predicts that Vale will produce around 50 Mt of iron ore less than planned this year.

This is not only due to the disruptions at its Córrego do Feijão operation following the deadly dam breach that took place last January, but also because in aftermath of it, the Brazilian giant announced a plan to decommission all its 10 upstream dams by 2022, a decision that is set to impact close to 40Mtpa of the company's total output.

"Vale's losses of 50 million tonnes (20 million tonnes of net losses from decommissionings plus 30 million tonnes from Brucutu's shut down) indicates an incentive price of $85/tonne. A further 8 million tonnes of losses shifts the cost curve further to the left and suggests an incentive price of $90/tonne," WoodMac states.

In the view of the market researcher, such prices could generate some competition from scrap as a cheaper steelmaking feedstock. They could also prompt demand destruction, as even a small decline in Chinese hot metal production removes a big chunk of seaborne iron ore demand.

Global production outlook

“Global iron ore production will grow modestly from 3,322mnt in 2019 to 3,430mnt by 2028. This represents average annual growth of 0.2% during 2019- 2028, which is a significant slowdown from an average growth of 4.5% during 2009-2018,” predicts, on the other hand, Fitch Solutions.

Despite the slowdown following the tailings dam breach near Brumadinho, Brazil is still expected to lead the modest supply growth in the next decade, together with India. Fitch forecasts miners in China, which operate at the higher end of the iron ore cost curve, to cut output due to falling ore grades.

Australia’s Port Hedland iron ore loading terminal, the largest source of seaborne iron ore supply globally. Photo from archives.

“In the long term, China's iron ore production will edge lower over the coming years, as weak iron ore prices (once the 2019 rally from renewed Chinese government support to the economy cools) and tightening environmental regulations force higher-cost operations offline. We forecast the country's output to decline slightly, from 1,281mnt in 2019 to 1,255mnt by 2028,” the market researcher says in a report.

Australia, on the other hand, is predicted to see a slight production decline over 2019-2028, averaging an annual 0.6% contraction, compared to 10.5% growth over the previous 10-year period.

“This is due to mothballing of mines from junior miners as iron ore prices remain weak, while major players will stick to their production growth targets to crowd out high-cost producers. Declining production costs will keep major miners’ strategy of increasing output to reap economies of scale economically sustainable. For instance, Rio Tinto and BHP now respectively boast cash costs of $14.30 and $15.00 per tonne of iron ore, respectively, due to intensive cost-cutting efforts,” Fitch’s paper reads.

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Dust samples from asteroid could help understand origin of precious minerals

Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA reported this week that the Hayabusa2 spacecraft touched down on the asteroid Ryugu and will start collecting samples of the dust in its surface.

The idea is to analyze such samples and get one step closer to understanding the origin of Earth’s water and precious minerals. According to the agency, asteroids are considered one of the candidates that brought water to our planet, which they retain as hydrated minerals.

In the case of Ryugu, it is also expected to host some form of organic material. Thus, it could provide clues about the emergence of life in our solar system.

The moment of touchdown at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's control room. Photo by JAXA.

To collect the dust, the spacecraft fired a 5g tantalum bullet into the asteroid surface at more than 650mph. Using a long flared horn located in its underbelly and known as the Sampler Horn, the device stored the retrieved samples which will add up to 10g of dislodged debris.

Hayabusa2 will attempt two other shots to collect samples later this year. One of the attempts involves using a larger missile to open a larger hole and collect below-surface matter.

The landing of small rovers on the surface of Ryugu is considered a tremendous success, as previous missions were not able to do so. “Our original schedule planned for touchdown in late October of last year (2018). However, Ryugu was revealed as a boulder strewn landscape that extended across the entire surface, with no flat or wide-open regions. Before arriving at Ryugu, it was assumed there would be flat areas around 100 meters in size. But far than finding this, we have not even seen flat planes 30 meters across,” JAXA experts posted on the agency’s website.

The craft is expected to be back on Earth, with its samples, in 2020.

According to Vox Markets, successful sampling could be the first step towards asteroid mining of resources whose value -the site states- has been estimated by NASA in approximately £522 quintillion.

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Miners should restore animal communities during site restorations – Study

Scientists are calling on mine operators to restore animal communities when they carry out site restorations.

According to a paper published in the journal Pacific Conservation Biology, the impact of mining on animals is overlooked as fauna tends to be under-recognized in assessments of restoration success.

Based on a global review of literature, the Curtin University study found that over a 49-year period, just 101 peer-reviewed articles reporting on fauna as part of mining restoration activities were published.

Photo by Sophie Cross. Courtesy of Curtin University.

“Our research highlights the need for more detailed consideration of animal communities in mine site restoration, as the common method of vegetation surveys alone may not be sufficient to ascertain the long-term success of restoration measures in effectively reinstating healthy, functional animal communities and ecosystems," the report's lead author, Sophie Cross, said in a media statement.

According to Cross, 75% of active mine sites are situated on land considered to be of high conservation value and even though animals are often assumed to return to the area of a mine site following its closure and the return of vegetation, in practice restoring animal communities and biodiversity has proven to be challenging.

“Our study has highlighted the importance of comprehensively and representatively restoring faunal communities after mining,” said the study's supervisor Bill Bateman.

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Recommissioned Aussie mine dispatches first nickel concentrate shipment to China

This week, Panoramic Resources (ASX:PAN) sent out the first shipment of bulk nickel/copper/cobalt concentrate from its Savannah mine in Western Australia to Lianyungang, China.

The shipment is making the news because its contents were produced after Panoramic was able to reopen the mine, which had been placed on care and maintenance in May 2016. The miner was waiting for a recovery in the nickel price, which at the time was around $3.93 per pound.

Such recovery has been taking place in the past weeks, prompted by growing interest in the mineral from the lithium-ion battery industry. Prices in the first two months of 2019 have reached $5.61 per pound of nickel, which makes the current situation significantly different from that miners were facing three years ago.

Foreseeing this new market reality, Panoramic obtained new financing in September 2018 and recommenced underground operations in December 2018, following pre-production and rehabilitation work that started in October.

Prior to this, the Perth-based firm signed a deal with China's Jinchuan and Sino Mining to sell them concentrate for at least the next four years.

The first shipment, dispatched on February 13, contained 7,735 wmt of nickel/copper/cobalt concentrate valued in approximately $6.1 million.

“This is a significant milestone in the recommissioning of the mine and processing plant at Savannah,” said Peter Harold, managing director of Panoramic Resources, in a media statement.

According to the company’s website, the project will now ramp up to full production over 15 months to a forecast life-of-mine average annual production rate of 10,800t Ni, 6,100t Cu and 800t Co metal contained in concentrate.

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Scientists take a look inside rare wire gold specimen

For the first time ever, scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory had a peek inside the structure of the Ram's Horn, a 263 gram, 12-centimeter tall wire gold specimen considered one of the few of its kind.

Using neutron characterization techniques, the researchers were able to take a look to try to better understand how the shiny object was formed.

"Almost nothing other than the existence of the specimen is known about wire gold," said Sven Vogel, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory's neutron science center.

According to Vogel, wire silver is more common in nature but its yellow counterpart is so rare that this particular specimen is almost invaluable.

"Wire silver is a mosaic-like polycrystalline aggregate with many hundreds to thousands of crystals in a single wire," explained John Rakovan, Professor of Mineralogy at Miami University and one of the researchers involved in the experiment. "The gold appears to be composed of only a few single crystals. Furthermore, we discovered that these samples are not pure gold, but rather gold-silver alloys with as much as 30 percent silver substituting for gold in the atomic structure."

The sample will be the centerpiece of a new exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History in the spring of 2020.

Using the lab's neutron source, which is normally utilized to study materials like uranium alloys or nuclear fuels, the experts were able to verify that this sample is homogeneous, meaning the whole sample is a 70-30 mix of gold to silver.

In their view, this could mean that the silver is bonding to the gold in the crystalline structure at the atomistic level.

"The results of this study will have implications for geoscientists who are trying to understand the geochemical processes that are at play in the formation of gold deposits, and for materials scientists and engineers who may use the unique properties of these materials in technological applications," the scientists said in a media statement.

The Ram's Horn belongs to the collection of the Mineralogical and Geological Museum at Harvard University and it was initially found in 1887 at the Ground Hog mine in Red Cliff, Colorado.

According to the museum curators, the mysteriously shaped artifact that resembles a twisted bunch of wires and not the usual golden nugget has baffled mineralogists since its discovery.

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Thirty-year-old inactive Australia mine to host first of its kind clean energy storage facility

The Angas zinc mine, just outside Adelaide and currently under care and maintenance, is about to become the site of 5 MW advanced compressed air energy storage or A-CAES project which will provide synchronous inertia, load shifting and frequency regulation to the area's electrical grid.

The developer is Toronto-based Hydrostor, a firm that was awarded $9 million in grants to build the facility, which would allow for variable renewable energy resources such as solar and wind to be integrated into Australia’s National Electricity Market.

According to Hydrostor, the project will repurpose Angas’ existing underground mining infrastructure as the A-CAES system’s sub-surface air storage cavern.

In a media brief, company experts explained that the way the technology works is that it uses electricity from the grid to run a compressor, which produces heated compressed air. Heat is then extracted from the air stream and saved inside a thermal store preserving the energy for use later in the cycle.

The compressed air is then stored in a purpose-built underground cavern, which is kept at a constant pressure using hydrostatic heat from a water column. During charging, compressed air displaces water out of the cavern up a water column to a surface reservoir, and during discharge water flows back into the cavern forcing air to the surface under pressure where it is re-heated using the stored heat and then expanded through a turbine to generate electricity on demand.

“Compressed air storage has the potential to provide similar benefits to pumped hydro energy storage, however, it has the added benefits of being flexible with location and topography, such as utilising a cavern already created at a disused mine site,” said Darren Miller, CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the institution that provided $6 million for the project.

The Angas zinc mine, first discovered in 1991 and acquired by local miner Terramin (ASX: TZN) in 1997, is located on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. It was placed under care and maintenance in late 2013 as a result of a prolonged drop in metal prices and the current economic reserve being depleted.

The processing plant at Angas was decommissioned but Terramin has been maintaining it with the idea of processing there the ore from its Bird-in-Hand gold project, which is located approximately 30 kilometres north of the zinc mine.

According to the miner, if it gets the required regulatory approvals, its team would modify the plant to process gold-bearing material, while also making use of the existing tailings dam.

Based on Terramin’s December 2018 quarterly activities report, the possibility of restarting the processing plant at Angas does not collide with Hydrostor’s work at the site.

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